Anti-American July 4th

San Francisco, July 4, 2007

July 4th in San Francisco. So many things to do!

After attending the AK Press "Fuck the Fourth" party as a pre-holiday warm-up, I was hungry for some more Independence Day patriotism -- San Francisco style.

I was tempted at first by a public event celebrating the "impending fall of the American Empire" where partiers could learn "flag burning techniques" while cheering on '70s-era proto-terrorists during a guerrilla screening of the documentary film The Weather Underground. Nice!

And as an opening act, in the very same park, I could attend the premiere performance of the San Francisco Mime Troupe's new play "Making a Killing", a delicious wish-fact fantasy about "a cabal of military-industrial-Neo-Con colluders" who trick the US into invading Iraq so they can make money. Starring Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and the whole gang (and I do mean gang).

But I faced a terrible scheduling conflict -- the day was so crowded with anti-American July 4th events that if I went to those two celebrations I'd end up missing the Propaganda III art show and the Act Against Torture Guantanamo street theater.

A dilemma! What's a progressive to do?

I flipped a coin and it came up heads -- which meant it was the propaganda art show for me!

The Propaganda III show was holding its grand opening in the Phoenix Hotel, a former down-and-out Tenderloin motel that had been converted into a cultural hub and hipster hangout.

Hundreds upon hundreds of "propaganda posters" had been submitted, and since the show's philosophy was "NO curation and NO censorship," all the entries had been accepted. With so many to display, the organizers had to plaster practically the entire motel with art.

What kind of art, you ask? Well let's take a gander, shall we, on this lovely July 4th.

"The United States of America Ruined My Life," claims this piece. Intriguing.

It was popular with the art aficionados who attended the event. Many people had their pictures taken in front of it, as a sort of souvenir.

Nearby was a poster recommending that soldiers kill their commanding officers. Now we're getting somewhere!

It wouldn't be a San Francisco July 4th without a poster condemning the entire nation as "stolen land." (Not quite sure why the same phrase is repeated in Spanish, at the top -- is the artist saying the land was stolen from the King of Spain?)

Here's Uncle Sam raping Lady Liberty, which he has apparently been doing since 1776. Damn those American Revolutionaries and Founding Fathers! Why oh why did they have to wage a War for oil er I mean tea oops I mean freedom no that's not it -- for oppression (there we go!) against those innocent British imperialists?

Drinkin' a beer and 'ppreciatin' the art. What more could you want out of life?

Out in the hotel's courtyard, an art-themed pool party was going on. If you overdosed on propaganda, you could jump right in and join the fun.

A DJ laid down some heavy beats, for proper ambience.

It wasn't just America and democracy that came in for a philosophical thrashing -- capitalism was a popular subject as well. Or at least the absence of capitalism. Now tell me -- who could possibly say that art isn't beautiful? Just look at that technique!

OK, so the US gets rid of capitalism. To be replaced with...?

Well, here's an answer to the question already. They sure have a lot of big-bosomed girls in that communist paradise!

Over in a dark corner, a patron excitedly pointed out a seemingly innocuous entry. What is it?

It's the flag of Lebanon, with an air freshener in the place of the cedar tree. Clever!

But what's that at the base of the tree?

The Hezbollah logo.

I was soon to discover that this was no fluke. The further into the exhibit I went, it began to seem like every other poster was either pro-Iran or in favor of some Iranian-backed regime.

What was going on? Were Western artists doing volunteer duty as propagandists for Iran?

As it turned out -- no:

Many of the posters were actually from Iran itself. And most were so "official"-seeming, so professionally crafted, it dawned on me that these entries were either designed and submitted by the government of Iran, or at the very least vetted and approved by the Iranian government, which apparently must have heard about a crazy American art exhibit in which there would be no curator, and decided to take advantage of the situation.

The organizers ended up getting more than they bargained for: they wanted artists to submit pseudo-propaganda, but what they got was real propaganda!

But as far as I could tell, I was the only one who noticed.

Even the pro-Palestine and anti-Israel posters...

...turned out, upon closer inspection, to have been Iranian (notice the "persia81" in the web address).

Speaking of avant-garde happening in San Francisco would be complete without a heavy dose of Palestinian narrative. In this wish-fact fantasy example, Palestinians throw flowers at the Israelis. Awww, isn't that tender and cute? And so realistic!

Hezbollah and Hamas were lovin' this one.

And look -- all races are enslaved until Palestine is free. (All the hands are chained to the West Bank.) Even blue people. Damn, that's some good propaganda.

Out in the courtyard, Propaganda III staff members, in Guantanamo-orange jumpsuits, handed out literature and chatted with art-lovers.

Nearby, a guy with a "Bush Chupa" man-purse bickered with his girlfriend.

Where was I? Oh that's right -- the art. And since they say "Art is truth," it's only natural that dozens of "9/11 Truth" posters were part of the exhibit. In this one, we learn that Bush engineered 9/11 as a latter-day Reichstag Fire.

This hyper-detailed piece...

...turned out to be a Truther conspiracy-theory masterpiece. (Though I wouldn't be surprised if this was an Iranian-made poster as well.)

As for George Bush...he's the devil...

...a demon... evil Spock...

...our (sarcastic) savior...

...and he flips us off with the World Trade Center.

But Osama bin Laden was popular. (Though what he has to do with cloning is beyond me.) And yes, that is the infamous "Evil Bert" on Osama's shoulder.

Some of the entries were downright eccentric, and focused on the artists' bizarre pet peeves. For example...

Say what? Aren't most New York taxi drivers themselves minorities?

Here's a racially-inflammatory commentary on the entertainment industry.

Jesus zaps Bush's rocket-penis with a lightning bolt. (I think....)

Terror-lawyer Lynne Stewart made an appearance.

Che Guevara joins Mt. Rushmore.

Some terrorist Ken dolls execute a grinning Tony Blair.

Is this art show a good way to pick up chicks or what?

Nice day for a revolution -- and a pool party!

Not all of the anti-American propaganda was sophisticated. Some posters appeared to be made by children...

...or people who think like children.

And even when it was sophisticated, it seemed to be made for children.

One thing's for sure, though: America is evil;

Bush is a Nazi;

General Electric sadistically supplied the power to the loose disconnected wires that didn't electrocute the Abu Ghraib prisoner;

Schwarzenegger is a gun-toting cartoon backwards-swastika Nazi terrorist;

Bush is the guru of Armageddon;

The Republicans are cannibals;

And America is addicted to oil.

Whew! I'm all propaganda-ed out.

Now that's what I call a July 4th art exhibit!

Dizzy with disinformation, I left the hotel and headed over to the next appointment on my calendar.

On the way, I passed an out-of-business halal meat market.

Could their unnerving choice of photo for their sign have something to do with the lack of eager customers?

A couple blocks further along, I passed a city-sponsored mural, part of which showed worshippers at a mosque.

Finally I arrived at my destination: Camp Guantanamo, California!

The protesters set up a mock Guantanamo cage -- with a sad, innocent hooded inmate -- at a prime spot in the middle of the stream of people heading to see the San Francisco fireworks.

They accosted passersby with literature and tales of oppression. A few showed interest...

...but as I watched, I saw something that was to me amazing -- not only did most of the people ignore them, but a surprising number gave the protesters a proper talking to. One man started yelling that no one was ever tortured at Guantanamo. Another pointed out that the Guantanamo prison was scheduled to be closed soon at the governement's request anyway, so what was the point of the protest? And the guy in the photo here with the cap really gave it to them, saying stuff like "What the hell is the matter with you people? Are you on the side of the terrorists? Get a life!" Wow. Never seen that in San Francisco before.

But for the most part, people just walked on by unconcerned -- such as the woman(?) on the left, whom I think I recognized from my previous report.

It's gotten to the point where the orange jumpsuit has become almost a progressive uniform.

A long afternoon of oppression can take a toll on a faux-inmate -- time to sit down for a rest.

As night fell, I joined the throng headed over to the waterfront to watch the fireworks.

The crowds were astounding -- hundreds of thousands of people had converged on San Francisco to celebrate July 4th the old-fashioned way.

I thought back to the attendance at the art show and the Guantanamo protest and I realized -- I had it all wrong. This city really is patriotic!

The crowd went wild.

Happy Fourth of July!

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